The G20 Needs a Permanent Home

The G20 Summit is like a traveling circus without the laughs.

It comes in with a lot of bells and whistles. The performers demonstrate feats of (political) strength as they tightrope walk around fiery issues.

Oh, and let's not forget the clowns.

When the show's over, it packs up and moves on to the next city. Meanwhile, you're looking at the mess wondering if it was worth the price of admission.

With the 20-nation big top leaving South Korea after setting up a barrier not unlike the demilitarized zone in the capital city, we think it's time to do some Seoul searching. Hopefully, some sober second thought will make Asia the last stop on this travelling road show.

Five months ago, the G20 Summit left Canadians wondering if they got the most bang for their buck. We started looking at the costs -- and by that we mean both dollar costs and those not-so-easily measured -- and found the answer is a resounding "no."

Monetarily, the Conservative Government scored a minor victory. While the estimated budget was pegged at $1.1 billion, the final tally rang in at $860 million.

A small discount, yes. But, after glimpsing inside the books, Canadians questioned how $100 pens for the President of the United States and $32,762 worth of "foot powder and Gatorade" benefitted maternal health.

Toronto restaurants are among those questioning the expenses. We spoke with businesses about potential losses. But none were as hard-hit as restaurants which reported 70 to 90 per cent drops on the weekend of the Summit. Reimbursement wasn't listed in the government's budget.

"The G20 Summit's impact on restaurants was sudden and severe," said Joyce Reynolds, the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association's executive vice president of government affairs in a statement. "However, [five] months later, the federal government is yet to give them a dime in compensation."

While these restaurants would benefit from reimbursement, a reputation can't be repaired with money -- and Canada's suffered considerable damage.

We'll never forget reporting from Yonge Street as masked vandals surrounded a car filled with seniors. We'll never fully understand what happened to Canada's tradition of protecting civil liberties when undercover police officers dragged activists into unmarked vans as we tried to gather their stories outside the Eastern Avenue detention centre.

Canada has demanded an explanation for these injustices. None was offered. Since then, the reputational price tag shot even higher.

Of the 1,100 detained the Summit weekend, only 315 were charged. Hundreds saw charges dropped because officers failed to obtain proper arrest warrants. Then the police themselves became subjects of investigation when it emerged 90 officers faced disciplinary action for removing their nametags.

"If they have made a choice to engage in misconduct by disobeying a rule of the service they will be held accountable," said Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair.

If only the same were true for G20 leaders. Accountability has not been a priority. According to the G20 Research Group, the consortium averaged a 64 per cent compliance rate on their top 10 objectives from Toronto. That includes goals on reforming financial institutions, trade and world markets.

Most would demand a refund for such a poor performance. Yet, the G20 circus continues to roll on. Today, Seoul is wondering if they were ripped off, too. Seoul is now part of that group of cities realizing the late George Carlin was right: "Just cause you got the monkey off your back doesn't mean the circus has left town."

After the experience in South Korea, maybe it's time to take the travelling circus off the road and confine the performances to the United Nations. This venue would ensure disruptions don't get transferred from city to city. And, the building is already equipped with an operating budget and a police force trained to handle protest. This means security costs wouldn't balloon and hundreds won't be detained and released with no charges.

If we give the circus a permanent home, maybe it won't make such a mess.